Today's story is the first in a collection called The Illustrated Man. Ray Bradbury said, "What if is the operative term for many of these stories [found in the book]. ...What if you could create a world within a room, that forty years later would be dubbed the first Virtual Reality, and introduced a family to that room where its walls might operate on the psyches and deliver forth nightmares? I built the room on my typewriter and let my family prowl. By noon the lions had leaped off the walls and my children were having tea at the finale."
In the book, there are 18 stories illustrated on a man's skin. Tattooed there, but they come to life and each tell their story. The first is called The Veldt.
Meet George and Lydia Hadley. They live in a fully automated house. The kitchen cooks for you. You have machines that bathe you, tie your shoes, comb your hair, brush your teeth. Chairs sooth and rock you. Your bed can lull you to sleep. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? An addition to the house, is the nursery. It is that 'virtual reality' room Bradbury talked about. Here, the children, Peter and Wendy, can play anything they want. Aladdin and his Magic Lamp? Done. Take a jaunt in Wonderland? Easy. How about China? No problem.
Well, as our story opens, Mrs. Hadley is concerned that there is something wrong with the nursery. They go see, and it's hot. There before them is the African veldt. Vultures fly over head. In the distance there are lions, picking clean their kill. They seem too real. And too gruesome for children. Mr. Hadley tries to change the room. But it won't leave Africa.
They call in their psychologist to look at it. He thinks they need to shut down the whole house. The children have been spoiled. "The room has become a channel toward--destructive thoughts, instead of a release away from them." So what happens when Mr. Hadley tries to shut down the room, move the family out of the house for a while?
With technology today, it seems that we as a people may be lazier than a few generations before us. Children may feel entitled, and think that instant gratification is normal. But could we ever let it go as far as this story does? While I'd love to have my house scrub it's floors and clean the dishes for me, I don't think I'd ever want my house to do everything for me. Where's the satisfaction in a job well done? What about creating a meal, and going, "Oh yeah, I made that!" At first glance, a house like the Hadleys' sounds amazing. Until there's nothing left for you to do...
The Radio Drama (available for purchase at twilightzoneradio.com) is just a little different than the print story. But the main essence is there and the ending is the same chilling conclusion. I recommend reading it first, and then give it a listen. It will give you chills, and something to think about.
My Dad found another version of the story, done as a radio drama in 1955. It is available at X Minus One Radio. It is not the same version as the Bradbury 13 (done in 1984) that I listened to, but it's pretty good too. Just click on over, and the audio should be at the top of the page. It's free to listen! Enjoy!